Streetcars and Family Money

     In some failed relationships the blame lies on conflict caused by a user and the person being used. Two situations comparable to each other are those of Catherine and Morris in The Heiress and Blanche and Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire.

     In the 1949 film The Heiress (directed by William Wyler), Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) is approached and courted by Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). As she was in Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, Catherine has been influenced by her father throughout her childhood to believe that she is rather undesirable and any man interested in her would be there for the money bequeathed to her by her father upon his passing. When Morris expresses his desire to be with Catherine, only her Aunt Penniman (Miriam Hopkins) supports the fact that Morris might be interested in Catherine as a person rather than a bank account. Eventually Catherine sheds her fears and follows Morris' lead, agreeing to elope with him. She is left sitting by the window with her shattered dreams lying around her.

     A Streetcar Named Desire (directed in 1951 by Elia Kazan) involves a short-term relationship between Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) and Harold Mitch (Karl Malden). Blanche and Mitch meet at Blanche's sister Stella's (Kim Hunter) apartment during a poker game. As he was in Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, Mitch is readily taken in by Blanche's charm, and they become very close. Unfortunately Blanche has a past filled with shadows and she neglects to tell Mitch the whole truth concerning it. Blanche's brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) uncovers the truth about her past and relays the information to Mitch. In the end, Mitch returns to his sick mother, and Blanche sits at a table staring at a birthday cake with more candles then there should be.

     In both instances, all parties are hurt in some way, but the most similar are Catherine Sloper and Harold Mitch. Both characters are very needy emotionally, and their lost loves erase the hope they had found in their lives. Catherine desperately needed someone to care for her and to let her feel as if she were desirable. Morris does this. Mitch simply needs some comfort in his life as he stays with his sick mother most of the time. Blanche offers an alternative to his routine lifestyle, and he grasps at it with all of the effort he is able to muster. When the truth is revealed to them, Catherine and Mitch lose their faith in love because what was once a wonderful feeling is now the greatest pain of their lives.

     Blanche and Morris did not hurt their counterparts intentionally; they just became carried away with their personal needs and did not realize the consequences of their actions. The fictional trauma they create does establish these cinematic works into illustrations of learning experiences, thus giving the real world a worth while lesson.

Rachel Dixon

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